What is a 1981 240D Automatic like to drive?

Yesterday I did my first proper drive in my 1981 Mercedes 240D.   More information about the car can be found here.   My overall impression is that the people who talk about the performance of the 240D automatic on the internet have clearly never driven one.  I’m used to driving fairly powerful cars like my 220KW 560SEC but I didn’t find the 240D especially slow around town.

I drove around my local area in a mix of heavy traffic, back roads and bigger roads with a speed limit of 90km/h.   At no time did I feel like I was holding up traffic or that the car was ‘dangerously slow’ like people claim.  During the night drive last night, I was even getting away from the group at times.

240D Automatic

In fact, I enjoyed driving the car and would be happy to drive it as a daily.   It is certainly more appetizing to me than anything that Mercedes-Benz is making today.     You have to adapt to the car and use full throttle a lot more than you would need to in a modern car, but there is something to be said about being able to use all the power a car has.

The gearing of the car makes the performance quite good from zero to legal speeds on the motorway.   This makes the 240D a good proposition for urban driving and long distance motorway driving.   In order to provide good performance, the car needs to be kept in its power band.  That means the transmission is kicking down a lot.   I could see a situation where the vacuum system had not been maintained and the kickdown switch not working that performance would be poor.   In that case the 240D automatic would simply bog down in top gear.

240D Automatic

The one type of driving I could see the 240D being unsuitable for is driving on back roads that require overtaking large trucks at 100km/h.   Redline in 3rd gear is around 105km/h, so there is no gear to overtake at those speeds.  This is where you want a V8 like a 450.

In addition, the 240D struggles to maintain speed on long uphill  motorway sections.   On the most recent night drive, there were a few of those coming home.   Speed would drift down to about 85, then I could kick down and bring it back up to about 95.   On more gradual grades it would hold a speed of around 100km/h but no more.     This is probably where the extra power of the 300D comes in.   On a flat section I was able to cruise at 120km/h so the 240D is generally fine on the motorway.  Even on the uphill sections where performance is lacking, it is still faster than the trucks.

Driving my 240D, I am reminded what a good transmission the 722.1 is when adjusted properly.   Nice crisp changes and a hugely rugged unit.   I’m not disappointed that my car is a 240D automatic.   The automatic transmission is properly set up and works really well.

I also found that over the time I was driving the car, it fixed itself.    Moving the temperature wheel around had the A/C kicking into life.    I guess just a dirty contact in the switch.   At first the lighting for the gear selector didn’t work, but that burst into life at some point.

240D Automatic

The only thing I took out of the drive to add to my todo list was the thermostat.   The car ran a little hotter than I think it should for a day in the mid 20s.   There is a lot to like about this car, comfortable, cold A/C, and good on fuel.   I drove for nearly 100km before the needle moved off the full position.

After I had driven the car around for a while, I went to take a few more nice photos.   I was passed by some very expensive luxury SUVs and thought that I would much rather drive my cheap 240D.

Today I had to go and pick up some things from the inner west of Sydney.   Narrow roads and heavy traffic.   The 240D was a great car for this, nimble, comfortable and excellent on fuel.   Plus the around town performance really is quite good.   I’ve now done 350km and the fuel tank is still showing more than half.   Of course, its a Mercedes, so once it gets below the half mark, it will be empty in no time, but it really is very good for a car of this age.

People who think these are dangerously slow should actually drive one.  I’m really enjoying mine.

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